Saturday, December 31, 2016

For Every Action, an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Something happened in 2016. Something was in the air, or in the water, or digging its way into the darkest recesses of our hearts to expose our deepest fears and pains. Bad things happened this year. Icons — too many to count — died. Monsters of our past resurfaced, and monsters of our present attained new heights (and new depths) that we’d hoped were impossible. Personal crises, for many of us, were at their toughest, and left us shaken.

Because of all this, 2016 has already taken on a sort of mythological power. First we cursed its name, then we dared not utter it for fear it may cast its withering gaze on us. It was an unfair, unforgiving, uncaring god. A cosmic entity ruining all that was good in our world with a careless sweep of the hand. 2016 was — and likely will soon be portrayed as — a super villain.

But here’s the thing, and I know many have already had this realization…

2016 is just a number that we assigned to a period of time we designated. Calendars and clocks are human constructs we built to try to make sense of the natural world. In nature, time, to our perception, simply moves forward.

Even if whatever triggered this sudden torrent of darkness happened to coincide with the beginning of our 2016, that doesn’t mean the torrent will end as we go into 2017. To the natural world, it’s just the next step in an endless sequence.

Which is pretty fucking bleak if you let your thoughts about it end there… and I’m encouraging you not to. Because I think that’s how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place.

I think, just maybe, humanity, the human organism of which we are all a small but integral piece, is really fucking depressed. I think we, as a culture, as a society, have seen some bad things happen, and those bad things left a dark mark, and some of us reacted worse than others, some of us even died or got sick, and seeing that happen left another dark mark with the rest of us, and that caused more sickness and death, more dark marks, more emotional weight, more depression. It affected how we communicate, how we act, how we REact, and those things in turn had further effects on the world around us and on ourselves.

I think 2016 was as bad as it was, in large part, because the dominant organism on Earth — human life — couldn’t handle its shit. We got some bad news — whatever that was — and that perpetuated more bad news, and on, and on. I guess some might call that a butterfly effect, but the butterfly effect is supposed to be random, and looking back, the events of this year seem all too predictable.

So, here is my hope, my wish, and my intent for 2017:

I hope the human organism has a moment of clarity. I hope that we, as a collective, react so strongly to the events of this year, that it creates an opposite surge. I hope that we go from inattentive to hyper-attentive. I hope we go from mass apathy to mass empathy. I hope there are enough rebels and punks and artists and contrarians and angry, fed up, hopeful, needful people out there that they permeate the collective unconscious and motivate humanity to new heights of life-affirming, authority-challenging, positive action.

My wish for 2017 is that instead of going further down the spiral, we bounce.

Nature doesn’t care about our calendar. It only means something to us. We named the years and use them to map our lives — but only we have the power to define them. Human action and reaction made the roaring 20s, 1945, and 2001 what they are. 2016 wasn’t some malevolent entity that had it out for us — it was only the frame through which we viewed this section of human experience.

2017 will not be better just because it’s a new year. But I hope, through its frame, we will get to see the equal and opposite reaction to its predecessor.

Nature won’t do this. The universe has no care for our struggles. Nothing will save us but us. Care more. Do more. Support each other. Expand your empathy. Accept that 2016 had no power over us, and we will see 2017 shaped by our will.

This is my hope, my wish, my intent.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

GATEWALKER goes live!

Several months ago, RC came across a craigslist ad for a nifty-sounding literary website called JukePop Serials. Their goal was to revive the age-old tradition of serialized fiction on the web (ironically, only a few months before Amazon/Kindle had the same idea).

JukePop invited writers to send in the "starts" -- ie. first chapters -- for their proposed serial novels, and if accepted, they would be paid for that first chapter. After that, each subsequent chapter would have the potential to earn cash prizes every month. 

Since I was just starting to poke and prod at my prose writing again for the first time in years, she threw this ad at me and said, "SUBMIT!" And, since I submit to just about anything RC demands of me, I dusted off an idea I'd been slow-cooking since 1999, and gave it a go. 

It was accepted, and this week, it went live.

Cover art & layout by Kerry Ellis.
Heir to a legacy he never imagined, hunted by an enemy he cannot see, one boy’s only hope for survival rests in the hands of a powerless wizard and the blades of a master assassin.  
Brian Donovan never knew his real parents. He’s never seen his true home. He leads the life of an ordinary New York teen; riding subways to and from school, exploring worlds of fantasy through books and art, and trying to muster up enough courage to talk to that one girl...  
When a random act of violence brings that reality crashing down around him, the veil is lifted and Brian’s true destiny is revealed. Now on the run from an otherworldly threat, Brian must endure physical, emotional, and psychological trials as he uncovers the secrets kept from him his entire life. 
For in this new world of danger and magic, sacrifice is only the beginning.

You can read Gatewalker for free HERE

But that's not all! 

RC also submitted a story, and she was also accepted!

Cover art by Kuroi-kisin
Layout by Kerry Ellis.
Taj has been a slave for as long as he can remember. He dreams of something more, and through his adventures and YOUR choices, he may learn the hidden truths behind who and what he really is.

You read that right; it's a Choose Your Own Adventure-type story. At the end of each chapter, she will present you with several possible choices the main character can make. The readers have one week to cast their vote in the comment section (which is not the same as clicking the "+ Vote Chapter" button -- more on that later). 

At the end of the week, the winning choice decides the direction the story takes next... and these choices could change EVERYTHING. The character's relationships, successes and failures, even the resolution of his story, are all at the whim of the readership. You don't want to miss this. 

You can read To Embrace The Sun for free HERE

...but THAT's not all!!! 

Our buddy KC ALSO submitted a story and was ALSO accepted!

Cover art & layout by Miranda Taff.
A dark fantasy saga of revenge and redemption unfolds as the children of the Blackstone - born with otherworldly gifts, stolen from their homes, and schooled in the art of killing - seek to break the bonds that hold them in captivity.

Remember two years ago, I wrote a post about the D&D game my friend was running that was so immersive it traumatized us all and became one of the most rewarding creative experiences of my life? 

This is that story. Only told now in KC's own world, with characters loosely based on the ones we played in the game. This is a story thirty-some-odd years in the making, and it's damn exciting to think that other people will finally be able to experience it. 

You can read Daggers for free HERE

...BUT THAT'S NOT okay yes that's all. 

Ain't that enough? 

Now, a word on voting: 

It's your civic duty.

Now, a word on voting on JukePop: 

You can read all of these stories for free, without having to sign up for anything. But you're only able to vote them up and leave comments if you register

I usually hate having to register with a website or social network just to interact with it, but at least with JukePop, there's a good reason for it.

Infographic courtesy of JukePop Serials' About page. 

You see, every time you click the "+ Vote Chapter" button at the bottom of the story page, you're boosting that story's chances of winning the money at the end of the month. You can up-vote as many stories as you want, but you can only up-vote a particular chapter once. Which is only fair.

Infographic courtesy of JukePop Serials' About page. 

So, by making everyone register to vote, the top 30 stories can be rewarded based on their actual merit, rather than how often a person can click the vote button in an hour. 

Signing up is a quick, painless process, and casting your vote will help us continue to be paid for our writing, which is always a nice thing. 

So, read to your heart's content, vote to ours, and enjoy this new adventure in serialized fiction!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hear me out... Movie Adaptations

I have a fondness for movie adaptations that make fantastical or cartoonish source material "work" by adding darker, more "realistic" elements.

The two prime examples I can think of are Bryan Singer's X-Men movies:

And Super Mario Bros. The Movie:

(stay with me...)

Now, that doesn't mean I don't love a good 100% faithful adaptation -- I do! Sin City, 300, the (first two) Spider-Man movies, even the recent Marvel-produced movies are largely, with only slight exceptions (or in some cases, none at all), committing the comics page to screen, and I love that!

But, I also love the idea of breaking things down to what they are at their core.

For example, my favorite of the Punisher movies (relative to each other) is the first one, because it felt like what the Punisher would really be like in the real world. He's not a dude in black spandex and a skull logo spouting poetic verse about how the guilty must be punished, he's a dirty, greasy, disturbed, dead-eyed headcase who lives in the sewers and only comes up to murder criminals.

(while spouting poetic verse about how the guilty must be punished)

(technically, my favorite Punisher movie is Man on Fire...)

(...but that's neither here nor there.)

"What would the X-Men be like if they existed in the real world?"

Well, they wouldn't be brightly colored superheroes beating up supervillains, they'd be a paramilitary force dressed for combat, fighting a secret war against a ragtag group of terrorists.

Because, here's the thing... when I look at a comic -- and primarily, I'm talking about superhero comics here -- I'm seeing the real world cast through a fantastical lens. And I enjoy it! It stimulates the imagination to contrast these things against what I know to be true.

So, conversely, taking the fantastical and casting it through a realistic lens has much the same effect. It's taking one thing and shaping it into a different kind of thing, while still keeping what made the original thing distinctive.

And it's the same for Super Mario Bros!

"What would Super Mario Bros. be like if it existed in the real world?"

(and I love this part)


Citizen Kane Clap

Of course it would!

Seriously, what an act of sheer invention. To take this nonsensical world of castles and mushrooms and evil dragon/turtle/monster kings and heroic plumbers, and turn it into a gritty cyberpunk dystopia where the meteorite that supposedly killed the dinosaurs actually split the Earth into two parallel dimensions and oh fuck it, just let the movie explain.

I can honestly say that a 100% faithful adaptation of the game to live action would not have been anywhere near as interesting as the film that was made. Yet it still had all the little elements that made it distinctly Mario Bros. They were representations and approximations, but they were there. It felt like this crazy little Elseworlds version of the video game.

And that's really the point, I guess. Movies can be that, because they'll never be the original thing. And sometimes it's better to invent (or reinvent) rather than adapt, because ultimately, all the latter means is that you're being told a story you already know -- and the first telling is usually better.

Movies that aren't afraid to change things up may very well end up crap...


...or they may end up showing you your favorite thing from a new angle.

And as long as it's still about a group of outcasts protecting a world that hates and fears them...

...or a couple of stalwart plumbers saving the princess from a tyrannical king...

...then it still maintains what's special about the original.

And despite what many may convince themselves of when trying to win arguments on the internet, that's really all that matters.

After all, I can think of another series that follows this pattern...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Published! Low Concept vol.1 and The Gathering vol.4

So, let's just mention the elephant right now: my mission statement in the "Where Am I?" column hasn't exactly been accurate for a while now. Ever since the Portland move, new blog posts have been few and far between and, I'll be honest, I don't know when they're going to pick up again. I've had many things to distract me from the Farther Room project, some legit, some ridiculous. Farther Room ain't dead, though. I haven't given up. I just still need to refocus and, contrary to previous statements, that's going to take time.

I figure the least I can do, though, is to keep you updated on my career progress, seeing as said career was the driving force behind the creation of this blog.

I've (finally) had some stories published!

The first was actually released last month:

Low Concept: an EOC anthology

Conceived, executed, and birthed from the warm fuzzy womb of the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast message board community, Low Concept is what happens when someone goes, "Hey, wouldn't this be a cool idea?" and then actually does it. Contained within are 140 pages of humor, adventure, drama, weirdness, sincerity and an absolute and unabashed love of the comic book medium. There's a story in there for everyone, and each one of them is satisfying in its own way.

And on page 49 you will find my first ever published comic, drawn by Steve J. Thompson.

I'll probably eventually put the whole thing on my website, but for now, let's just call this the free taste.

You can purchase the book for ridiculously cheap HERE!

Second, we have another anthology originally conceived on a comic message board:

The Gathering, vol.4: Into the Abyss

The Gathering is a quarterly publication, started by members of the Jinxworld message board community, which has received tons of critical praise and good press. Each issue is based around a respective theme and features short stories by amateur and pro comic creators alike. The horror themed fourth issue includes a two pager written by me and drawn by my long time collaborator, Matt Shults.

You can buy it (and all the other issues) at the publisher's website HERE!

Also there's still a few days left on the Kickstarter campaign to fund future issues of the comic. Check out the details HERE.

So there you have it! I haven't been wholly unproductive during my hiatus.

Further updates to come... eventually.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Truth

What’s the truth?

There’s a question for the ages. The meaning of life? The reason we’re all here? The grand design? The point of it all?

What is the POINT?

I’ll be honest; I’ve never cared to find out. I pride myself on having found philosophical and existential balance pretty early in life. I was 17 years old, pacing around my apartment, worrying what I should do about my failing grades, my future college career and my life beyond, and I had this sudden, calming epiphany that it didn’t matter. All the shit crushing in on me… didn’t matter. I thrust my arms out to the side with the force and conviction of a shepherd parting waves and I said, “It doesn’t fucking matter.”

And it didn’t.

I didn’t do too well in school. My brain didn’t jibe with that establishment -- which shouldn’t be mistaken for a generic, punk-poseur aversion to “The Establishment” -- I’m just saying the way things were done there -- the energies involved -- the vibe -- wasn’t me. I didn’t like the idea of worrying myself into a nervous breakdown because my own desires, inspirations and meditations didn’t fit into the structure of a future I’d built for myself based on society’s blueprint.

Does that make sense?

It was MY blueprint. MY life. I was who I was and I did what I did and I enjoyed myself. Probably not to the degree that I might have liked; I still feel like I missed out on a lot of my youth when I was young. But at least I clung to those inspirations. Three years later, I would introduce myself to a table of creative professionals by giving my name and adding, “and I wouldn’t be here today if I was a good student in school.”

That moment -- the one with the "F" word, I mean -- shaped my view on life. It’s the sort of clarity a person gains when they’re riding a malfunctioning plane into the Atlantic and they realize, “Fuck… I can’t do anything to stop this. I am not in control of this. I preside over myself alone and the rest of the world is just a ride.”

Except, instead, I was 17 years old and worried about meeting the expectations of imaginary people I realized I didn’t give a shit about. I’ve always been sort of an early psychological bloomer. I think I hit my mid-life crisis around 20.

So, it didn’t fucking matter, and from that sprung an entire philosophy on life, molded around the idea of being productively selfish. Do what makes
you happy. Get what you want. Contribute to a more positive world by not walking around with a cloud over your head all the time. I couldn’t always follow this philosophy, but who among us can? Even Christians have confession.

One major part of that philosophy was the willingness to not care. People struggle their entire lives with questions of religion and faith and purpose and meaning, and I refused to. God was whatever I chose to believe he was. A mixture of all the good stuff and none of the bad. Did I believe in the devil and hell? Nope. Great storytelling concept, though. Was I interested in others thrusting their beliefs upon me? Hell no. Stop distracting me. Was I eager to share these beliefs and seek out others who felt the same? Not really. I cared more about what other people thought of the comics, movies, and music that I loved. THAT was the shit that mattered to me, because THAT’s what made me happy. Creativity was my religion, and I would wage war on the non-believers with the fury of a thousand angry nerds. But the god stuff just didn’t bother me. I figured, when the time came, I’d learn. Until then, I was gonna do right by me.

This didn’t mean I wasn’t curious… of course I was. I’m a problem-solver by nature, and the only thing worse for me than not knowing something is KNOWING that I don’t know. But the scope of this particular problem was beyond my ability to decypher, at least while still doing everything else in my life that I wanted to. So, like a person who’s resigned themselves to withholding judgement until the end of the movie, I just decided to sit back and enjoy the story. No spoilers would be sought.

I always had an ear out for them, though. Every philosophical discussion or passionate rant I was party to, I paid close attention and listened for the ring of truth. Not judging, not rejecting, but accepting everything, comforted by the notion that I didn’t really need to know.

Still, certain things -- the things that really resonated -- found their way into my daily life. I believe in the power of positive thinking, not because my father would drill this stuff into my head relentlessly when I was younger, but because through my own path, I found that thinking more positively made me feel better. And that made the people I interacted with feel better. And those people in turn made others feel better. And when people feel good, they make less mistakes. And when less mistakes are made, things don’t go wrong as often. Like a stone dropped into a pond, each of us creates ripples, and those are the ripples I want to create.

(As it happens, this is exactly what my father had been trying to explain to me all those years ago, just in his own way and his own words, which weren’t the ones I needed at the time. Or maybe all I needed was time.)

Have I gotten off topic…? Not really. Because it all leads back to the title of this post. The truth.

I’ve never looked for the truth. But I have kept my mind open enough to discover bits and pieces of it along the way. Part of that is corroborating reports. When two people say the same thing, it can be a coincidence. When three or four or five people say the same thing, it could be intentional. When several people, separated by years, with no reason to interact or even pay attention to each other start saying the same weird things in different words… well now that’s something of interest.

It’s the “in different words” part that makes it true for me. You know the belief that all messianic figures throughout the world’s religions may actually be differing accounts of the same person? I believe that. The similarities in structure, if not detail, are too apparent, and the storytellers have no interest in each other. Somewhere between conflict and indifference lies truth.

So, what is truth?

Y’know what? It doesn’t fucking matter… but the problem has a shape now. It has a perceivable scope. I can see both ends of it and I’m curious.

The truth lies hidden in the words and works of
Alan Moore, where all time is simultaneous, art is true magic, and society is becoming steam.

The truth lies hidden in the life and mind of
Grant Morrison, where magic is a proven act of sheer will, and the next level of consciousness means releasing your personal identity to merge into something communal.

The truth lies hidden in the often angry, sometimes cynical, always passionate words of
Bill Hicks, in which “all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, and we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively.”

The truth lies hidden in the experiences of
Stephen Tobolowsky, who tells a story of a time in his life when he could hear “tones,” like voices (music?) from another (farther?) room, which told him things he couldn’t possibly know about the pasts of random people.

The truth lies hidden in the life of my own family member, who has been telling me these things, in different words, since I was a child, and who put his money where his mouth was last year by quitting his medications and curing himself of a debilitating disease through the power of sheer will and belief.

These aren’t the words of
Joseph Campbell or Carlos Castaneda or Michio Kaku or Seth. These aren’t studies I’ve pursued. These are snippets from the lives of artists. These are tiny shards of truth that have stuck in my mind unintentionally. If Creativity is my religion (and it is), these people are my prophets.

Somewhere in their experiences, and the experiences of many others who have not yet crossed my path, lies the truth.

It’s not a truth I’m going to seek out. I have other things to focus on. Stories yet to tell. This is just one of them. And just because I’ve written it doesn’t mean I’m going to become one of those armchair philosophers, tirelessly sussing out the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I’m perfectly content with “42” and everyone else can rest happily in their own beliefs.

Ultimately, this is just a blog post. A collection of words and links. Its only meaning is what you invest in it.

It doesn’t fucking matter.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cheat Week: Holiday Special

I know I've been silent this month. The new job threw my schedule for a loop and left me with little brain power for blogging. Still, this is my favorite time of year and I didn't want December to pass without some recognition of that. So, without further ado, I'd like to share an old classic...

...and something newer...

One is a piece of my childhood and goes a long way toward defining the season for me, the other is one of the best episodes of my favorite new show, and defines the holiday in a way that's both fresh and comforting. You can watch both of them on Hulu for free at the provided links.

Whichever holiday you celebrate, I hope it brings you warmth and joy!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Retrospective Retrospective: Hulk (2003)

A recent and sudden bout of employedness has kicked my productivity in the ass (it's a high-class problem), so I'm recycling an old article to meet this month's quota. Luckily, if you haven't followed my writing for Geeks of Doom, this article will be brand new to you!

When Louis Letterier's The Incredible Hulk was coming out in 2008, I was tasked with writing a review for Ang Lee's much-debated 2003 Hulk film for GoD. It became more of a deprogramming than a film review; my ultimate statement on a movie which I still consider one of the best of its genre (regardless of what genre you think it belongs to). In light of the news of ABC's new Hulk TV series, and after seeing yet another discussion about this movie pop up on one of the message boards I frequent, I figured it would make for a quick, easy, and hopefully interesting Cheat Week alternative while I'm dealing with the restructuring of my schedule for the new job.

Hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving!

Movie Review: Hulk (2003) - A Retrospective

Imagine a high concept science fiction story. Imagine heavy psychological drama. Imagine an intensely personal exploration of identity, family, and destiny. Imagine all of these elements wrapped up in an extremely bare-bones, classical-style film. And finally… perhaps most importantly… imagine that that film is not based on a comic book.

When Ang Lee signed on to direct the feature film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ most beloved characters in 2003, it was only because he saw something special in the material. Something deeper. Something buried beneath years and years of comic mythology and fan expectations. He saw to the heart of the Hulk.

Now, five years later, Hulk is still the most heavily debated comic book film among fans of comics and film alike. The lovers hail it for its cerebral depth and emotional complexity. The haters boo it for its meandering narrative and questionable performances and effects.

“You can’t have a summer blockbuster that takes 42 minutes for the action to start!” was the general consensus among the naysayers, and they were not entirely wrong! The movie was released in June of ‘03, when the summer movie season was just getting started. It featured a character whose entire reputation was built on a very simple concept: He gets angry, he gets big, and he destroys everything in his path. People walked into that theater expecting a Michael Bay-sized action extravaganza and instead they were met with long, contemplative close-ups of desert flowers, flashbacks within flashbacks, and, yes, a 42-minute wait before any of the anticipated destruction began.

That an audience revved up in such a way might have been thrown by this, is not at all unreasonable. If you go to the movies wanting Transformers and you end up getting No Country For Old Men, it doesn’t matter how good the latter was, you’re still disappointed it wasn’t the former. Your expectations kill your ability to just enjoy what’s in front of you.

Let’s take the film out of that context, though. Let’s imagine that the movie was released at a less-onerous time, and wasn’t billed so heavily as an “action adventure.” How might audiences have reacted then? Well, in that scenario, you still have the reputation of the character to contend with. So, as I suggested earlier, let’s eliminate that factor. There was never any comic called The Incredible Hulk. No TV show. No previous knowledge of a frail scientist who turns into an emerald giant when he gets angry.

Let’s strip the experience down to its absolute barest elements. What do we find?
Read the full article here!